The Ballad of Rack and Rhye: An Homage to Bo Bolander

Based on Brooke Bolander’s
And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead
Published by Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57



For Bo Bolander
By C. S. E. Cooney

She is young, she is old, she is gutter-girl bold
With her teeth sharp as moonlight and crystal
She’s a skinjob and bum, and the cops have gone numb
In the wake of her knuckles and pistol

She has guns on her hips, she has horns in her fists
And the eye that remain’s not for crying
And she spits through the split in her bleeding cracked lips
When he finds her, he thinks she is dying

She is wracked, he is wry, he is wearing a tie
And his two hands are clean as they lift her
She is Rhye, he is Rack, and she’s slung on his back
Ah, for fuck’s sake–he shoulda just left her

So he sews up her cuts, swabs her wounds spic and span
Then she carries on drinking and brawling
Brings her in from the rain, gives her something for pain
Doesn’t say much, but sure as shit’s watching

“All right, tell me, my man, why do you give a damn?
What’s so beautiful, brave, or alluring?
I’m a dirtbag and hag, and you might say my dad’s
Every Tom, Dick, and Alan M. Turing.”

He’s so cool and composed, looking neat in his clothes
She’s a bourbon and cigarette mess
But he smiles and he shrugs, and he toes at the rug
“Hey, we all need a hobby, I guess.”

Now her eyes are dead gray, and her hair has gone gray
And her vision’s sprayed red with his blood
Bastards blew out his brains, but his essence remains
Buried deep, fast asleep, locked in code

Now the grass it is gray, and the trees they are gray
She is jacked in and fucked up and frayed
She is circuit and wire and electrical fire
And the ferryman has to be paid

Down that dirty canal leading straight into hell
Down that river of dead, choked and swollen
Full of fish-nibbled eyes and those blue-marbled thighs
All the piss, trash, and flesh of the fallen

Dead soldiers, dead agents,  punks, pirates, police
And the worm that she killed at age nine
Bounty hunters, mob bosses, no-fucking-great-losses
And that one goddamned kid that one time

Keep moving, keep searching, you street rat, you urchin
Through the Styrofoam, rust, dust, and plaster
Further up, further in, through the murk and the grim
As the air itself tastes of disaster

In the windshield cracks, in the pricks up her back
She is sensing some dark shadow walker
Not a cat, not a rat, not a buzzard or bat
Yeah, she’s not a big talker, her stalker

Rhye-That-Was, not That-Is, sprints and grins, feints and twists
She’s a shark in the murk sensing slaughter
Fatal furious cat in an alleyway spat
Barracuda in gunsmoke and water

There’s that purposeful walk, there’s that feral wolf trot
All that bone-sickle burnt-out derision
She is bitter and young, and she’ll crush both your lungs
As she pistolwhips you to submission

But Rhye-That-Is-Rhye doesn’t curl up and die
Though her foe packs a punch like blackjack
Rhye is chewing on glass, but that cocky dumbass
Gets a thumb in her eye on the tarmac

Rack is hog-tied and sore, but he’s just as before
Calm and quick-witted, cool and deadpanning
“Here’s the kill switch, my girl, won’t you give it a whirl
Load ’em up, bright as brass in your cannon.”

So she primes up her guns, and she hands him off one
“Rack, I’m trusting you, don’t fuck me over.”
Now her enemy’s back with a pop and a smack
Then a splash, and they’re seven feet under

It’s a pond of pirhannas, it’s Lucifer’s sauna
And that bitch is a right bugaboo
And they’re losing their vigor till they each pull a trigger
In tandem, like good partners do

Rack’s body is dead, so he rides in Rhye’s head
It’s not first class, but hey–they’re still flying
If his code’s in her melon, well, hell–it’s a fuckton
Lots better than quitting and dying

Do they come back alive, do they sink or survive
Plunged in cyberpunk’s bleak purgatory?
Think I’ll tell you? You’re wrong; this ain’t that kind of song
Go and read the original story  

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